Philoclean Society (Rutgers University)

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The Philoclean Society was one of two student literary societies active at Rutgers College during the greater part of the 19th-Century. The society was formed during the first semester of the re-opening of Rutgers College in 1825. Another society, the Peithessophian, was started the same year; the two would remain campus rivals until both fell victim to a lack of interest in the 1890's. The society was re-formed in 1907 and remained active until 1932.

Professor William Craig Brownlee was instrumental in naming and organizing the Philoclean Society that first year, but from the beginning it was an entirely student governed and supported organization. The society served a number of important functions on campus. The first was to improve the students' skills in declamation, composition, and debate through compulsory participation at weekly meetings. The second function was to provide students access to more varied literature than was available at the college library. The society maintained a lending library that included works of literature, philosophy, science, religion, as well as current periodicals. A third major function of the society was to administer and participate in the annual commencement week activities. The Philoclean Society pitted its best junior debators against those of the Peithessophian Society in the annual Junior Exhibition, held the night before commnencement.

Every other year the society was responsible for securing a notable speaker for the commencement week address. Some of the commencement orations were printed by the society for sale to the public. An activity linked to the commencement address was the on going solicitation of political, literary, scientific, and religious leaders to accept honorary membership in the society. Those accepting honorary membership might later be asked to speak before the societies during commencement week. A great deal of importance was attached to honorary membership that went beyond finding speakers; these solicitations were a way for students to make contact with the politically powerful and the intellectual elite. Notables who were active in the society as students include Joseph P. Bradley (RC 1836), the future Supreme Court Justice who wrote an impressive tract on the society's right to operate autonomously without faculty interference, and Frederick T. Frelinghuysen (RC 1836), a future U.S. Senator. William Elliot Griffis (RC 1869), an early western authority on Japan, served as the society's president and libriarian. William H. S. Demarest (RC 1883), later to be President of Rutgers University, served as the society's president as well.

The Philoclean Society's most active and influential years were from 1825 through the 1850's, when the two literary societies were the most important social groups on campus. The majority of the student population belonged to one society or the other. In the second half of the 19th-Century the rising popularity of fraternities, intercollegiate sports, and other student activities lessened the dominance of the societies. However, both groups remained viable forces on campus up until the 1880's when they fell into decline. By the end of the 1890's the Philoclean Society of Rutgers College, along with it's rival, had ceased all activity.

In 1907 a new literary society was formed; it took on the Philoclean name in 1909 and remained active until 1932. Meetings of the new society served as forum for discussing current literary trends, closing monitoring the works of authors and playwrights emanating from New York City. The society participated in founding and adminstering an Interscholastic Debating League for secondary schools in 1914 and launching a Rutgers humor magazine in the mid twenties.

From the description of Records, 1825-1927 (bulk 1825-1890). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122338041

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848 person
associatedWith Barnard, Daniel D. 1797-1861. person
associatedWith Bradley, Joseph P., 1813-1892. person
associatedWith Brown, David Paul, 1795-1892. person
associatedWith Brown, George William, 1812-1890. person
associatedWith Brownlee, W. C. 1784-1860. person
associatedWith Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878 person
associatedWith Buchanan, James, 1791-1868 person
associatedWith Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 person
associatedWith Demarest, William H. S. 1863-1956. person
associatedWith Dwight, Theodore W. 1822-1892. person
associatedWith Edison, Thomas A. 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865. person
associatedWith Frelinghuysen, Frederick T. 1817-1885. person
associatedWith Frelinghuysen, Theodore,d1787-1862. person
associatedWith Griffis, William Elliot, 1843-1928. person
associatedWith Halleck, Fitz-Greene, 1790-1867 person
associatedWith Irving, Washington, 1783-1859 person
associatedWith Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845 person
associatedWith Mann, Horace, 1796-1859 person
associatedWith Milledoler, Philip, 1775-1852. person
associatedWith Murray, David, 1830-1905 person
associatedWith Nairne, Charles Murray. person
associatedWith Ogilby, John D. person
associatedWith Peithessophian Society (Rutgers College) corporateBody
associatedWith Peithessophian Society (Rutgers University). corporateBody
associatedWith Romeyn, Theodore. person
associatedWith Rutgers College corporateBody
associatedWith Rutgers University corporateBody
associatedWith Sergeant, John, 1779-1852. person
associatedWith Seward, William Henry, 1801-1872 person
associatedWith Taylor, Zachary, 1784-1850 person
associatedWith Thackeray, William Makepeace, 1811-1863 person
associatedWith Tyler, John, 1790-1862 person
associatedWith Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852 person
associatedWith Webster, Noah, 1758-1843 person
associatedWith Wise, Henry A. 1806-1876 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New Jersey--New Brunswick--lcsh
New Jersey
New Jersey--New Brunswick
Subject
Universities and colleges--Societies
Literature--Societies, etc
Universities and colleges--History
Oratory
Debates and debating
Young men
Occupation
Function
College Students--New Jersey--New Brunswick--lcsh

Corporate Body

Active 1825

Active 1927

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